St. Charles Borromeo parishioners, students reach out to Tacoma’s homeless

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Fourth-graders at St. Charles Borromeo School in Tacoma make sandwiches each week for the homeless. Pictured are Xavier Colon, parent Jen Gaffney, Mia Mercado, Abby Gaffney and Ryan Quan. Photo: Courtesy Bridget Vecchiato Fourth-graders at St. Charles Borromeo School in Tacoma make sandwiches each week for the homeless. Pictured are Xavier Colon, parent Jen Gaffney, Mia Mercado, Abby Gaffney and Ryan Quan. Photo: Courtesy Bridget Vecchiato

TACOMA – After morning prayer every Tuesday, fourth-graders at St. Charles Borromeo School take time to help the homeless.

“We make ham sandwiches and write uplifting notes to make them feel better,” explained fourth-grader Mia Mercado, adding that her notes say “Be happy” and “Don’t feel bad.”

“We call it ‘food for the soul,’” fourth-grade teacher Becky Griffin said of the encouraging words, Bible quotes and drawings that students pen on 3-by-3 notecards.

Mia and her classmates are supporting the Mercy Works (253) ministry at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma, which each week serves about 150 people experiencing homelessness. Parishioners travel around the city, providing food, blankets and other basic necessities to those in need.

“Our intent is to care for the most marginalized and homeless,” said Deacon Mark Shine, who became involved with the ministry when he was assigned to the parish in April 2016.

Some homeless people the ministry serves don’t want to live in a shelter, he said, while others can’t stay in shelters for various reasons, such as having a pet or being asked not to return.

St. Charles Borromeo School
Lexi Piacitelli, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo School in Tacoma, writes an inspirational message for a homeless person. Fourth-graders write notes and make sandwiches that are distributed by the parish’s Mercy Works (253) ministry to homeless people in Tacoma. Photo: Courtesy Bridget Vecchiato

The name Mercy Works (253) is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, plus the 253 area code where the ministry does its work, explained Deacon Shine, who served in Connecticut, India and Dallas before moving to Tacoma.

When he arrived at St. Charles, he said, the Mercy Works ministry consisted of one volunteer handing out food to the homeless. Now, several volunteers meet late Tuesday mornings to fill one-gallon Ziploc bags with sandwiches, fruits, vegetables and protein bars. Each meal provides 2,400 calories.

“You burn a lot of calories when it’s 32 degrees and raining,” Deacon Shine explained.

The sandwiches come from the St. Charles Borromeo fourth-graders, Chick-fil-A and Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. It takes about 20 minutes for the school’s 57 fourth-graders to make 50 sandwiches and write their notes.

“It’s touching what these fourth-grade kids come up with,” Deacon Shine said.

After the meals are packed up, the Mercy Works volunteers look for homeless people near stores, walking down streets, at Tacoma’s tent city stability site and in parks. Volunteers stop by the same locations each week, at about the same time each week.

On a recent Tuesday, John Young was among more than a dozen parish volunteers who spent more than six hours caravanning in four vehicles through Tacoma to distribute the meals to the homeless.

“They’re very nice and friendly people. They trust us and we trust them,” said Young, who has been a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo for 25 years.

Besides food, volunteers hand out bottles of water, toilet paper, toiletries and socks. Clothing and blankets are provided by parishioners from St. Charles Borromeo, the Knights of Columbus from Tacoma’s Visitation Parish and the Tacoma Rescue Mission.

Deacon Shine said he would like to see the ministry expand to serve the homeless on more days and in additional ways.

“I’d like to do something beyond taking care of basic needs,” he said.